SIOUX CITY -- If American Pop Corn Company had failed to innovate during the last four decades, Garry Smith thinks the company wouldn't be around anymore.
Smith, the president of Sioux City-based American Pop Corn, maker of the Jolly Time brand, said that selling popcorn was once a simple proposition -- there weren't any specialty or favored varieties.
"I started in 1976 and we introduced microwave popcorn in 1984. And during those eight years, we did not introduce a single new product -- all we did was sell exactly what we've always had," said Smith, the great-grandson of American Pop Corn founder Cloid H. Smith. "If we did business that way today, we wouldn't exist."
The company's product line has exploded since the days when they had to learn the art of packaging microwave popcorn. Today, Smith estimates Jolly Time sells 17 different flavors of microwave popcorn, along with their pre-popped and non-microwavable varieties.
But the popcorn market has a new problem: Millennials, the convenience-loving generation now in their 20s and 30s, don't buy as much microwave popcorn as their parents, Smith said. It's not that the generation doesn't like popcorn; they just don't like the inconvenience of using the microwave, preferring their corn pre-popped.
Bakeryandsnacks.com, a branch of British marketing media firm William Reed, reports that microwave popcorn is expected to lose market share to ready-to-eat popcorn through at least 2020.
Jolly Time has a two-pronged approach to bring Millennials back to microwave popcorn: New spicy flavors and natural options.
Their newest flavors, Blazin' Cheez (a spicy cheese flavor) and Blazin' Blast O (a spicy butter flavor), are hotter than Jolly Time's previous popcorn offerings. Both Blazin' flavors came to market in the late summer, and are available through Hy-Vee, Fareway, limited Wal-Marts and some other retail outlets.
Basic snack market research shows that spicy snacks are, for lack of a better term, hot.
"You go down the snack aisle, and you'll notice how many hotter flavors there are than there used to be," Smith said. The company is hoping that the hot popcorn will appeal to younger male shoppers, who aren't presently buying a lot of microwave popcorn.
Smith said the flavors are expected to be available nationwide when the largest U.S. grocers, Wal-Mart and Kroger, complete their yearly product reviews and get the new popcorn on their shelves.
The Blazin' flavors, which Smith said are somewhat similar to Spicy Nacho Doritos, took around six months for Jolly Time's food scientists to develop.
As Jolly Time tries to appeal to the spicy segment of the market, they're also courting natural/healthy/clean foods customers with their Simply Popped product, which was brought to market in June 2017. The company touts the short, simple ingredient list of Simply Popped, which is aimed at customers wary of artificial ingredients.
"The positioning (of Simply Popped) is right on trend," Smith said. "It's doing very well nationally -- it's a good thing we introduced it when we did."
A new Simply Popped flavor, Peppercorn, was introduced on a limited basis this summer.